Ammonia is a chemical, which is widely used in the manufacture of household and industrial cleaners. However, its use can have some negative impact on humans and the environment, which we have discussed in this HomeQuicks post.
Did You Know?
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, more than 120,000 children below the age of 5 were involved in incidents involving household cleaners in 2006.
Keeping our house and surroundings clean is extremely important to protect our health. However, the cleaning products which we use often contain harmful chemicals. One such commonly used chemical is ‘ammonia’.
Ammonia (NH3 is a chemical compound made up of one part nitrogen (N) and three parts hydrogen (H3). It occurs naturally in humans and the environment; however, it can also be produced by artificial means. Inside the human body, the deamination of amino acids produces ammonia. In the environment, ammonia is naturally produced by the action of bacteria on organic matter, such as plants, animals, and animal wastes. In the chemical industry, ammonia is most commonly produced to be used in the manufacture of plastics, explosives, fabrics, fertilizers, pesticides, dyes, household cleaning solutions, and other chemicals.
Properties of Ammonia
Following are some physical and chemical properties of ammonia:
☞ Ammonia is a colorless gas with a sharp suffocating smell.
☞ It can be compressed under high pressure to form a colorless liquid.
☞ It is alkaline and hygroscopic (readily absorbs moisture) in nature.
☞ It easily dissolves in water to form a caustic solution called ‘ammonium hydroxide’, which can cause burns or irritation of the skin on contact.
☞ Though ammonia is not highly inflammable, the liquid-ammonia carrying containers may explode on exposure to high heat.
Dangers of Cleaning with Ammonia
Ammonia is highly used in the manufacture of household as well as industrial cleaning solutions. These cleaning solutions contain ammonium hydroxide, a solution which is corrosive in nature. Use of these products at home or work may lead to exposure to ammonia, which may have undesirable effects on both humans and the environment.
Effects on Humans
☞ Once inhaled, ammonia immediately interacts with moisture in the mucus to form caustic ammonium hydroxide. As a result, inhalation of ammonia vapors may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, throat, and respiratory tract.
☞ Low concentrations of ammonia may aggravate the respiratory condition of asthma patients.
☞ Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air may lead to bronchial and alveolar edema. This may obstruct the air passage and cause respiratory disorders.
☞ Direct contact with industrial cleaners that contain high concentrations of ammonia may inflict severe skin burns, permanent eye damage, or even blindness.
☞ Accidental ingestion may cause corrosive injury to the mouth, throat, and stomach.
☞ Excessive exposure to ammonia may also lead to liver and kidney damage.
Effects on the Environment
☞ When ammonia-based cleaners are drained down the sinks/toilets as a part of the housecleaning process, the waste treatment facilities are unable to remove ammonia before returning the water to rivers or lakes. This leads to the accumulation of ammonia in treated waters causing the rapid growth of some types of plants, that too in large numbers. When these plants die, they start decaying. This depletes the oxygen in the water, giving rise to algae. As a result, freshwater fish do not survive and their bodies too start decomposing. All these factors render the water useless for consumption, and even bathing.
☞ Air contamination due to ammonia released from industries and homes can contribute to smog.
Tips to Minimize the Exposure to Ammonia
While using cleaning products containing ammonia, keep the following tips in mind.
☞ Keep the house well-ventilated, and use gloves, a mask, and eye protection while cleaning.
☞ Keep the children away from the room you are cleaning.
☞ Never mix bleach with cleaning solutions containing ammonia since it gives rise to a highly toxic gas called chloramine.
☞ Avoid keeping ammonia-containing cleaners in fragile containers such as glass bottles. This will minimize the risk of exposure due to breakage.
☞ Keep the cleaners away from the reach of children.
If at all you accidentally come in contact with ammonia, wash off the area of contact, with water. If the problem persists, seek medical help immediately. To be on the safer side, try using cleaners that offer safer alternatives to ammonia. Even products advertised as ‘green’ or ‘natural’ may contain ingredients that can cause health problems. Therefore, always read the labels before purchasing any product.